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Bill Would Create New Way For Small Businesses To ‘Self-Fund’ Employee Health Insurance

Opponents Raise Concerns About Potential Quality Of Health Plans

Insurance card
PhotoAlto/Frederic Cirou/Getty Images

A bill scheduled to be taken up by the state Assembly this week would allow small businesses to band together to offer a new type of insurance plan to employees — a move Democrats say could have major negative consequences.

Under the bill, businesses could pool their money to “self-fund” employee health benefits.

But, as the proposal is currently written, these “employer groups” would not have to comply with state laws for health insurance, which include requirements for coverage of certain procedures and treatments.

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Rep. Debra Kolste, D-Janesville, says consumers depend on those insurance laws to ensure they’re covered for the things they need.

“The essential benefits of health care would be gone,” Kolste said. “Colorectal cancer screening gone, copayment equality for chemotherapy that we worked on hard a couple sessions ago, gone.”

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Shannon Zimmerman, R-River Falls, says he is open to changing the proposal to include those coverage requirements.

Zimmerman said his primary goal with the legislation is to make it more affordable for small businesses to provide insurance coverage to their employees.

“The root of what I am trying to do here is related to affordable health care for small businesses, not to create division or imbalance between any of these (health care) organizations,” he said.

Zimmerman, a small business owner, said the costs of health care are a major concern for small businesses across the state.

“These little guys in Wisconsin, they’re fantastic businesses, they simply don’t have the economies of scale to purchase cost effectively,” he said.

The proposal is scheduled to be voted on by the full state Assembly within the week.